Amid increasing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant tensions nationwide, the University of Maine System is considering a new free speech policy that would affirm constitutionally protected speech, but also would allow campus officials to “prohibit speech” that “harasses others.”

The executive committee of the board of trustees will discuss and vote on the proposed changes at a meeting Wednesday.

“This is a timely issue as many universities nationally have been and are facing questions about campus climate and civility,” according to the narrative accompanying the suggested changes.

The policy is based in part on the findings of the University of Chicago Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression, and the model language suggested by that committee.

One of the biggest differences between the UMS and Chicago language is that the model language has a strongly worded and lengthy defense of free speech, with a narrow section spelling out the exemptions. The UMS policy uses the Chicago exemption language almost verbatim and has a more limited description defending all speech. The final section of the UMS policy says “this policy shall not be construed or applied to restrict academic freedom within the University, nor to restrict constitutionally protected speech.”

In December, the trustees directed an ad hoc committee chaired by Chancellor James Page to consider whether changes were needed to policies regarding free speech and expression, campus climate, and political impartiality. Also on the committee were trustees James Erwin and Gregory Johnson, University of Southern Maine President Glenn Cummings, UMaine Machias Interim President Sue Huseman and general counsel James Thelen.

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